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Director Matthias von Gunten says he grew up obsessed with legends of two exotic lands: the edge-of-the-world northern realm of Thule and the tropical paradise Tuvalu. Little did he know that his bedtime reading was preparing him to talk about global warming: In his thoughtful ThuleTuvalu, we watch as indigenous people in two very different environments say goodbye to traditional ways of life thanks to the here-and-now effects of climate change. Fests will respond well to a doc whose nicely photographed observational material makes its point — for those living far from industrialized nations, warming matters now — without the addition of talking heads or Green activists.
Once known as Thule (a name given to various icy lands in ancient tales), the Greenland community of Qaanaaq is said to be the northernmost inhabited community in the world. Here men rely on a seasonal freeze that allows them to take their dogsleds out to hunt for seals and other animals, but those freezes aren’t happening as they used to. On one expedition, we watch as a crack opens in thick ice a team just passed over, quickly widening into a rift of water so wide the dogs must swim across in order to drag the hunters back home.
In Tuvalu we meet an elderly patriarch who says he has never had much to do with money: Food and necessities were there to be gathered or made. But a younger man, who has worked on foreign-owned ships, has heard about a phenomenon that endangers their way of life. Locals may subscribe to a literal belief in God’s promise never to flood the world again, but over the course of von Gunten’s time with them, even skeptics see how rising sea levels are destroying fertile land and killing coconut trees.
The filmmakers’ focus is on how communities recognize these threats via direct observation instead of having outsiders warn them. So we spend time seeing the ways of life they’re trying to maintain: The film is unusually direct in showing what it’s like to survive by hunting and fishing, and squeamish viewers will have trouble with some of this footage — of seals being chopped up and eaten raw on the spot where they’re killed; of fish being broken and pigs slaughtered. But these gory sights come after thrilling ones — of chasing flying fish through the water at night with a spotlight; of narwhals frolicking in an icy ocean. And the insulation from slaughter the modern world affords comes at a cost: Watching Tuvaluans move to Queensland, New Zealand, where their children wipe counters at McDonald’s instead of learning to fish, we understand that it isn’t just property that is lost when a rising sea forces islanders to relocate.
Production company: HesseGreutert Film AG
Director-Screenwriter: Matthias von Gunten
Producers: Valentin Greutert, Simon Hesse
Director of photography: Pierre Mennel
Editors: Claudio Cea, Caterina Mona
Music: Marcel Vaid
No rating, 95 minutes
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